The Tug

An Outdoor View

Ever wonder why some of us will sit in a boat on the Kenai River, day after day, through all kinds of weather, hearing our friends tell the same old stories, without so much as a nibble?


It's because we know with absolute certainty, sooner or later, we'll feel the Tug.

The Tug is a drop-whatever-you're-doing signal that something is going on down there, at the other end of the line. It begins -- and often ends -- as a mystery. Your curiosity awakens. Your eyes focus on your rod tip. After what might be hours or even days of waxing and waning anticipation, your heart beats faster. This moment, when something touches your bait, is one of the most exciting parts of fishing.

If you've done much fishing, you've learned that the Tug may or may not be caused by a fish. In saltwater, it might be a crab or an octopus. In a stream, it could be drifting debris, or a fish brushing against your line as it swims past. No matter the cause, a movement telegraphed up your line to your fishing rod grabs your attention. It could be a big fish with your hook in its mouth.

To me, that initial pull on the line, is what fishing is all about. Until it happens, you're just going through the motions, using some technique that you hope will incite a bite. After the Tug, you're just reeling in another fish.

Some long-time fishermen are pretty good at guessing what's causing the Tug. While bait-fishing for silver salmon they'll often call a Tug a "line rub," a "trout bite" or a "baby salmon bite."  One reason king salmon fishing is so popular is that a king usually pulls with a good deal of authority. The bottom of the Kenai River is littered with fishing rods pulled overboard by kings.

When you use a rod holder, you can still see the Tug, but you can't feel it. You lose an exciting part of fishing. If the only kind of fishing I could do was with a rod holder, I'd quit fishing. Feeling the Tug means that much to me.

Fishermen usually talk about fish "biting." Fish do bite, but they also do other things that cause the Tug. They will push a bait or lure with their noses, just bumping it. They sometimes seem to be chewing on bait, possibly to taste it. Who knows? Whatever they're doing, they can't do much of it without sending a signal up your line.

That signal, the Tug, can be a long time coming.  One of my first fishing expeditions was to a small mud puddle on the edge of the road near my house. My hook was a safety pin; my line, a piece of string. There weren't any fish in there, but I didn't know that. You can't see what's in a mud puddle. Anything could've been in there. If Mom hadn't called me in for supper, I might be there still, waiting for the Tug.

Les Palmer can be reached at


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